The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, who had an excellent month in November in which they went 6-2 while sweeping Denver and Miami and splitting with Denver and North Dakota, haven’t won since that month. The Mavericks closed the first half by losing and tying/winning a shootout at Colorado College. They opened the second half this weekend by getting swept by New Hampshire.
New Hampshire won 6-3 and 5-2 decisions. Nebraska-Omaha continues to struggle defensively; so far this season, they have only won one game in which scored two goals or less, a 2-1 win over Northern Michigan back in October. The Mavericks have given up four or more goals eight times so far this year, and only twice this season has UNO been able to hold an opponent to a single goal or less. Nebraska-Omaha is currently ranked 50th defensively of 59 teams; on average, they give up 3.39 goals per game after the New Hampshire series.
That trouble clamping down on opponents hurt them on Saturday against New Hampshire. After taking a 2-1 lead early in the third period on a four-on-three power-play goal, the Mavericks gave up four unanswered goals in the last seven minutes of the game, two of which were on power plays and one of which was an empty-netter.
The Mavericks were without two cogs to their team against New Hampshire: defenseman Jaycob Megna and coach Dean Blais, who were serving three-game suspensions for a rules infraction last year. The two have one game left on the suspension, the first game of a home series against Minnesota-Duluth next weekend.
Only two other teams in the NCHC had official games this weekend, as Brown traveled to Colorado to take on Denver and Colorado College on consecutive nights. The Bears came away with three points in the two games, as well as an unofficial shootout win.
On Friday at Denver, Brown rallied three times from a one-goal deficit to earn a 3-3 tie. Denver was lucky to get a point at all, as Garnet Hathaway’s chance from in close in OT rang right off the post.
Denver had difficulty with its penalty kill, giving up two power-play goals. Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery singled out the defensive effort of his team, saying, “Our play with the puck was a little bit above average, but our play without the puck was abysmal. Our D-zone and backcheck coverage was the worst that I’ve seen it in a long time, probably since the middle of October.”
Though neither team got extra points, Brown coach Brendan Whittet had agreed to a shootout in the event of a tie. Brown’s Matt Lorito scored on the first chance of the shootout with a sweep stick drag maneuver past the outstretched leg of Sam Brittain. Denver’s best chance to score came when Joey LaLeggia rang one off the post. Lorito’s goal was the only one of the shootout.
On Saturday in Colorado Springs, Lorito again played a big role, as did his linemates, Mark Naclerio and Nick Lappin. Lorito picked up an assist, and Naclerio and Lappin each scored and had an assist on the other’s goal as Brown scored twice in the second to take a 3-1 lead, then got another early in the third to ice the game. CC’s Alexander Krushelnyski scored an extra-attacker goal with 18:24 left in the third to make the score more respectable.
North Dakota, St. Cloud, and Minnesota-Duluth all had success in exhibition series this weekend. North Dakota traveled to British Columbia to play in the Great Northwest Showcase. North Dakota lost, 3-2, in overtime on Friday against British Columbia, then beat Simon Fraser, 4-3, on Saturday. Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud both blitzed the U.S. Under-18 squad; UMD won 7-0 on Friday and St. Cloud won 8-0 on Saturday.
League action resumes
This weekend, NCHC league play resumes for all eight teams. Denver hosts St. Cloud, North Dakota hosts Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha hosts Minnesota-Duluth, and Western Michigan hosts Miami. Currently, St. Cloud sits atop the standings with 19 points, holding a slim lead over Nebraska-Omaha, which has 17 points. North Dakota and Denver have 15 and 14 points respectively, Colorado College has 10 points, and the other three have nine points each. However, each league win is worth three points, so the standings could look drastically different come next Monday.